Marty Burns
Thursday June 21st, 2007

Leave it to the Maloofs, owners of the Sacramento Kings -- and the Palms Hotel and Casino -- to make the ultimate gamble.

The Las Vegas-loving family is rolling the dice big time with the hiring of Reggie Theus as the head coach of their beloved NBA franchise.

Theus is a former NBA star and popular former member of the Kings. In his two seasons as a college coach, he turned around New Mexico State. He has movie star looks and charisma.

But every college big name who has made the jump to the pros over the past 10 years has wound up a tombstone in the NBA coaches graveyard.

Mike Montgomery. Tim Floyd. Lon Kruger. Leonard Hamilton. John Calipari.

The NBA is a different game. It isn't Deering High, the fictional school that Theus coached on that TV show Hang Time. The Kings aren't going to care a whit about his turnaround at New Mexico State, his two NBA All-Star appearances or his Hollywood looks. NBA players just want to win and get paid (and not necessarily in that order).

"College kids are basically the same as NBA players," Theus joked Wednesday at a news conference to announce his hiring. "They just don't have the money.

"The biggest thing is I was in the league for 13 years and [analyzed games on TV] for nine years. I think I understand NBA players. I've been through everything they're going through. There's nothing I haven't seen."

Cynics might say, of course, that it really doesn't matter how Theus fares in terms of wins and losses. The real test will be whether the former Kings star can persuade the public to help pay for that new arena the Maloofs say they need to keep the franchise in Sacramento.

(And if not, who better to lead the Kings to their new home in Las Vegas than former Runnin' Rebels star Theus?)

It's hard not to see the whole Las Vegas relocation thing in this move. While Kings GM Geoff Petrie said all the right things Wednesday and appears to be on board with Theus' hiring, the move has the Maloofs' fingerprints all over it. Petrie -- an old-school basketball guy who played at Princeton -- just seems like an odd fit with Theus -- a UNLV guy who used to light up scoreboards like neon signs on the Strip.

Last year Petrie seemed to step back while the Maloofs made the call on Eric Musselman. This time around it was supposed to be Petrie's call all the way (he reportedly wanted Stan Van Gundy before the former Heat coach decided to take the Magic job). One has to wonder if Petrie feels like he got big-footed again.

For now we'll have to take the Kings' word that Theus was the consensus choice as the best man for the job. He certainly got it done at New Mexico State, compiling a 41-23 record and an NCAA tournament berth in two seasons after inheriting a team that had gone 6-24 the year before he arrived. The Maloofs also noted Wednesday how much they liked his energy and NBA playing experience, including four stellar NBA years in Sacramento.

"We consider him a first-class person and this is a first-class organization," Gavin Maloof said. "We call him the King of Kings."

"Reggie's been a head coach," Joe Maloof added. "The other two candidates [Scott Brooks and Brian Shaw] were terrific, but they hadn't been head coaches before."

Besides those two years of sideline experience, Theus had one other thing going for him over those other candidates. He already has a relationship with Kings forward Francisco Garcia from their days together at Louisville, where Theus worked as an assistant under Rick Pitino. Theus, in fact, said he got to know Petrie from talking with him about Garcia during preparations for the 2005 draft.

On the other hand, Theus has just two years experience as a head coach at the Division I level. Having been out of the NBA the past four years, he doesn't know much of the personnel. Theus is already on record as saying he wants to bring in a veteran assistant to help him with the transition (Paul Silas, perhaps?), but he is going to have to get up to speed quickly.

Theus is also going to need to work some of that famous charm on much more important Kings players than Garcia if he hopes to succeed. Unless Petrie trades Mike Bibby and/or Ron Artest, Sacramento is going to once again have a veteran roster that isn't going to be impressed with rah-rah college stuff. Theus, who promises an "aggressive offensive and defensive" philosophy, said Tuesday he had already spoken with Artest and Bibby and was excited about the chance to work with them.

Whether they and the other Kings players will be excited about Theus, especially in the dog days of the season in February and March, remains to be seen.

After all, the track record for college coaches in that regard is not good.

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